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Rorschach Theatre’s uniquely rendered production of Julia Izumi’s Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea sugars the pill of unrequited love. A playwright and storyteller, Izumi has spent the past several years developing this script. After several successful readings and workshops (including Rorschach’s own play development program, Magic in Rough Spaces, in 2022), Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea has finally received its professional debut, directed by Gregory Keng Strasser. Both the production and Izumi’s script are maturely developed yet delivered with the candor of a child. A contemporary twist on a classic fairy tale, Izumi’s play ponders the many iterations of a lifelong love, which can, at times, be as sporadic as the rain and, at other times, as encompassing as the sea.
Set in a heavenly landscape designed by Sarah Beth Hall, Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea begins through the eyes of an anthropomorphic rain cloud. Actor Sydney Dionne assumes the role with vivacity and charisma. Costumed by Alexa Cassandra Duimstra, Rain Cloud is as human as any other character, but with the right amount of fantasy to blur that line. Rain Cloud is joined by Janine Baumgardner as Midi and Jordan Brown as Ralmond. A contemporary couple that can handle anything life throws at them, Midi and Ralmond find themselves otherwise thwarted by a sudden rainfall. Quite significantly, however, Izumi’s play epitomizes the idea that “when it rains, it pours.” Rain falls in more ways than one when Rain Cloud unwittingly and unrequitedly falls in love with Ralmond, resulting in both a literal and emotional flood.
Upon meeting this trio of characters, audience members realize we are caught in the midst of a fairy tale still in progress. This tale follows neither the rules of logic nor romance, but invites plenty of chaos and adventure. Though inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, “The Little Rain Cloud,” as a story within the story, resists such romantic antiquities found in other storybooks. A unique blend of the fantastical and the quotidian, this remarkably simple love story is one of timeless heartache and surprising friendship.
As explained in Izumi’s play, the stories of Andersen are, in fact, much darker than most would imagine thanks to their current reiterations. Far from their Disney adaptations, Andersen’s tales are rife with heartache, loneliness, obsession, and unrequited desire. Izumi’s script connects such themes to the author himself when—lo and behold—Hans Christian Andersen steps into the play. Under the pseudonym Dolan, Nick Martin interrupts the action of the story, passively hinting himself to be the beloved author of such works as The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen. This author becomes more than a comic narrator when his characters begin to develop minds of their own and he begins to recognize there are lessons to be learned in his own life story.
As the play progresses, 19th-century transplants Edvard (Colum Goebelbecker) and Ina (Jordanna Hernandez) complicate “The Little Rain Cloud,” which, in fairness, is a tale too simple to substantiate a full-length play on its own. With a mysterious connection to Andersen’s past, Edvard and Ina push back on the romantic conventions of “boy meets girl.” Indeed, Goebelbecker and Hernandez tackle the challenges and delights of a more human love story. Other cast members include Arika Thames as a wise and witty bovine named Bessie and Jolene Mafnas as Little One, the child to whom Andersen dedicates his new fairy tale. As if right out of a storybook, characters range from human to inhuman to imaginary, yet all interact in delectable harmony.
The overall aesthetic is something along the lines of “bubblegum chic,” but there is nothing saccharine about Rorschach’s production. Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea tends to dismiss the conventions of a “serious” play, but embraces the delights of the imagination and bittersweet nature of human connections. Strasser’s deceptively complex production is a confectionary delight with a twang of heartbreak. Most importantly, it recognizes the heart and celebrates the creative joy of Izumi’s work.
Rorschach Theatre’s Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea, written by Julia Izumi and directed by Gregory Keng Strasser, runs through April 16 at Atlas Performing Arts Center. rorschachtheatre.com. $30–$45.